State motorcycle rally returns to U.P.

Photo by Carrie Usher

Photo by Carrie Usher

by Jim Pennell

The parking lot of the Marquette Holiday Inn will likely have more motorcycles than cars this month when the Harley Owners Group (H.O.G.) make it the headquarters for its Roar the Superior Shore rally from August 13 through 15.

The ride is being organized by the Michigan Harley Owners Group. Dee Sparks-Boak from Lansing is the rally coordinator responsible for bringing the rally to Marquette.

“We considered a couple of locations for the rally,” Sparks-Boak said. “We looked at not only whether an area has the adequate facilities to accommodate everyone, but also how that place would benefit from the economic impact a rally brings.”

A request from Al Ison, owner of Bald Eagle Harley-Davidson, led the group to consider Marquette as a host city.

“We held the rally in Escanaba in 2010, and the riders enjoyed the area so much we wanted to bring it back to the U.P.,” Sparks-Boak said. “We have some of the best riding there is here in Michigan. It’s our wonderland.”

Sparks-Boak put together a proposal and presented it at a rally near the end of last summer. It was approved by members, and the Roar the Superior Shore rally started moving forward. The Marquette Holiday Inn was eager to serve as the headquarters, and scenic locations were scouted for rides.

The average Harley rider is hard to classify, but they’re far removed from the Marlon Brando motorcycle gang image of years ago.

“Your typical H.O.G. member can be anything from a doctor or lawyer to a retired teacher,” Sparks-Boak said. “They will be spending time and money in local restaurants, hotels and shops.”

The first Harley Owners Group was established in 1983 as a way to bring together and improve communication between Harley owners, employees and the company itself. There are currently twenty-four H.O.G. Chapters in Michigan and more than 1,400 worldwide. Chapters must be sponsored by an authorized Harley-Davidson dealership, and members can enjoy everything from organized rides and social events to roadside assistance programs and discounts on services and purchases from supporting companies. Chapters also frequently organize local fundraising events. Bikers must be members of H.O.G. to participate in the Roar the Superior Shore, and pre-registration is preferred, but not necessary.

“We have about 1,100 registered now and usually get a few hundred more who register at the events,” Sparks-Boak said. “They come not only from Michigan, but all over. We have a rider from Australia who comes every year, and a couple from Iowa. They also come from Texas, New York, Tennessee, everywhere really.”

Bald Eagle Harley-Davidson, the local dealership, will host Bike Games, which is a motorcycle rodeo that features events with intriguing names like Big Game Buckshot, Road Kill Scoop and Ride the Plank. There will be a parade of bikes through Marquette on Saturday afternoon and a party at a different location each of the three nights. Rally participants are given information on suggested scenic rides, which can be either self-guided or ridden with a guide. They include a trip to Copper Harbor, following highway H-58 to the Hurricane River and Grand Marais, exploring southern Marquette County and a visit to Big Bay.

Frank Donckers is the director of the local Chapter #1523 of H.O.G.

“These major state rallies are all planned by a Rally Committee and set up through Harley-Davidson and the Michigan Harley Davidson Dealer Association,” Donckers said. “The local chapter has no input in the initial planning. We’re really just here to help out if they need it. I’ve been involved because I’m the director (of the local chapter), and with my contacts around town, I’ve been able to secure things for them that would have been difficult to do remotely. As the time approaches, the local chapter will be helping out in and around the dealership and as local hosts at the information areas so the riders can get direction from local sources. As a chapter member, when you sign up for the rally, you have to indicate what area you’d be willing to work as a volunteer. Our chapter members and their spouses will be doing quite a bit of that.”

Volunteers are an important part of any event like this, and people donate their time, either individually or as a H.O.G. chapter, to help with registration, field events, security and parking.

Most of the riders are from metropolitan areas and look forward to riding in the U.P.

Photo by Carrie Usher

Photo by Carrie Usher

“These remote rallies are popular as it gives riders a chance to get away from the hustle and bustle of their normal riding and see the sights of the North Woods,” Donckers said.

H.O.G. Chapter #1523 is sponsored by Bald Eagle Harley-Davidson, which is the only Harley dealership in the U.P., so the 104 members are spread out across the peninsula. They take part in weekly rides and are active in charity fundraising in the area, with the biggest being the ride to benefit Bay Cliff Health Camp.

“We started that twenty-nine years ago, and since then have raised $1,303,000 and some change for Bay Cliff, which is a significant poke in the pocketbook for them,” Donckers said. “We are the all-time top donator to the Health Camp.”

Motorcycle riding in this area can be both beautiful and challenging, with both a short season and whimsical weather to deal with.

“If you’re not in a position to go south or west for the winter, you make the best of the short season we have,” Donckers said. “I’ve been riding for fifty-two years, and ridden in pleasant weather and not-so pleasant weather. I’ve been on the road as early as March and as late as December. I’ve even ridden on New Year’s Eve once or twice. Although it was cold, I’ll be able to say one day that I did it. It’s sharing the road with the deer and the antelope that worry me more than the weather.”

With well over a thousand Harleys and their owners cruising the roads and visiting the area, the impact of Roar The Superior Shore is sure to be felt—and heard—by all.

—Jim Pennell

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